Nova describes the program as an investigation into drones: "...cutting edge technologies that are propelling us toward a new chapter in aviation history."
On Jan. 28, five days after the program had aired, the progressive press watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) came out with a report criticizing the Nova drone program, most importantly noting that the Nova episode was underwritten by Lockheed Martin, a major drone manufacturer.
According to the FAIR report, "The program’s sponsorship tie to the drone industry were never mentioned — though there were opportunities to disclose that relationship."
According to FireDogLake, a collaborative progressive news site, PBS' test for underwriting bias is supposed to cover three areas:
- Editorial Control Test: Has the underwriter exercised editorial control? Could it?
- Perception Test: Might the public perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control?
- Commercialism Test: Might the public conclude the program is on PBS principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services or other business interests?
The answer to the first test is unclear, but PBS appears to be failing on the other two test measures. According to a post at Current, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler had already received over 550 comments about the program as of Tuesday morning, and response from PBS is in the works.
Even more so in public and alternative media, readers expect fair, balanced, and impartial information. The thought of public media news being unduly affected by politics or business connections is particularly slimy for the American consumer.
Clearly, though, as revenue sources dry up all around the media landscape, content-producers are increasingly hesitant to turn down scarce sources of revenue. Take, for example, The Atlantic's recent fiasco that came from running a controversial "advertorial" for the Church of Scientology on a prominent spot on their (usually) venerable website.
Media organizations are almost always caught and somewhat shamed by these run-ins with bias and unscrupulous monetary involvement, but, yet, the problems seem to persist. Following why, how, and how often these mini-scandals pop-up will certainly be a worthy topic when considering the problems facing public and alternative media.